4/12 Saturday Post: What Can I Do?

A commentary from Jeffco Guardian:

“What can I do?”

This is the number one question heard these days when the topic of the ongoing and controversial Jeffco board majority actions comes up.  It comes from everyone:  parents, teachers, grandparents, coworkers and neighbors.  People are feeling helpless and, unfortunately, somewhat hopeless.  They see a the Board majority of WNW pushing forward their own agenda regardless of what anyone says about it.  They do this under the pretense that they were elected to do just that.

These feelings of helplessness and hopelessness are very understandable.  But I would venture to take that further and say that these emotions can also be very motivating!

The first thing to tell someone when you hear this question is that you understand how they feel, and that they are not alone.  There are many, many others who feel the same way.  I wish we could tell people that we have the ability to rein-in WNW and control how they vote, but the sad truth is until they do something blatantly illegal or so crazy that it gets district-wide attention , we can’t.  However, we must remind ourselves that they are human and, if we speak their language and do so respectfully, we can try to appeal to their humanity.  I believe they know – on some level – that forcing their agenda down our throats is wrong.  They want data so let’s show them data, and let’s do so respectfully.

Before I get into recommendations of things you can do, I should first address another related concern I’ve heard:  “I don’t feel like I know enough about what’s going on yet to be able to have an intelligent conversation about my concerns with the board.”  I totally understand this hesitation and concern.

When I first started digging in, I had never attended a board meeting before and didn’t know all the jargon.  Honestly, there’s still SO much I don’t know; it’s overwhelming sometimes.  My recommendation is to start with what you do know.  Start by calling board members and sending them emails.  Ask for an explanation. Tell them that you want to understand  their perspective.  Ask for more information and their viewpoint on specific things, such as charter school equalization.  Ask how that reallocation of funds will affect neighborhood schools.  Share with them your and your child(ren)’s experience(s) at your school.  Share with them the successes and the challenges your school’s teachers and administrators face.

Ask about the employee compensation issue & budget negotiations – why the impasse?  Do not feel like you need to present all the facts in the letter.  Bottom line is that you deserve their perspective, and they have an obligation to you as a taxpayer to explain themselves.  I encourage people to be respectful and not belligerent in any way. The likelihood of receiving a response is magnified if you come across as you are:  a concerned citizen who wants an explanation.  Best thing to do is just sit down and write your first letter – you have to start somewhere!  Below are the District’s instructions for emailing or ‘snail-mailing’ the Board, plus the guidelines the Board has what correspondence will be published and what will not:

Public correspondence received by the Board of Education office at board@jeffco.k12.co.us or 1829 Denver West Dr., Golden CO 80401 is available for public viewing.  If addressed to individual board members and not provided to the Board office, the correspondence will not be included….

Letters addressed to the Board of Education that contain the name of a student or involve a student issue are not available to the public (* unofficial).  The Board does not respond to anonymous letters or letters that are copied to the Board but not addressed to the Board.

Hopefully you’ll get a response – please let us know if you do!

So, that said, here are some specifics:

  1. Approach the board.  This can look a lot of different ways:  come to board meetings, sign up to speak during meetings, email board members, call them.   We need to let WNW know – on a regular and consistent basis – that we are not ok with how they are manhandling the district.
  2. Keep reading.  Read blog and facebook posts.  Read articles on the reform movement elsewhere in Colorado and the nation.  Read local newspapers.  Peruse the web and look for data that substantiates positions you support or don’t support.  For example, look at the research that shows the advantages of early literacy and full-day kindergarten if you are for providing free full-day kindergarten to Jeffco schools with a population that is 35% or more free & reduced lunch (e.g., low income).
  3. Contact your state representative and senator.  Let them know that education is important to you.  Give them specific examples from your/your child’s experience regarding how budget cuts over the past several years have affected education in your school.  Tell them that paying down the negative factor is important to you so funding can be restored to our schools.
  4. Talk to…well, everyone!  Don’t be shy.  It’s easy enough to start a conversation by just asking, “so what do you think about what’s been going on with the Jeffco School Board?”  If they have an opinion, great – conversation is started.  If they don’t know what’s going on, that’s great too!  You have an opening to tell them what’s been going on and ask them if you can email them with updates!  Develop a distribution list of your own.  You don’t have to start your own blog (unless you want to!) or write your own email updates if you’re too busy – just forward those you receive to your network of friends, coworkers, family members, and neighbors.Keep the conversation going.  The reality is that most people in Jefferson County either are not aware of the strife surrounding this new board majority or are not clued in yet as to how it affects them if they don’t have children or grandchildren in the schools.  It’s important for those folks that you emphasize the fact that if our local schools tank, so will our home values.  Businesses look at the health of our school district when determining whether to locate or remain here.  Did you know that by the year 2020, 75% of entry-level jobs will require a college degree?  Our schools better be healthy if we are to meet this demand!
  5. Try to resist the urge to let them divide us!  We are all Jeffco:  neighborhood schools, GT, SPED, charter schools, option schools!  I have been feeling a lot lately that one of the underlying goals is to cause divisiveness and competition amongst our populations – all of us fighting for our “fair share” of the pot.  We ALL need to be successful if Jeffco is to be successful!  Don’t fall prey to this trap.  We need to remain unified and supportive of one another.

The question, “what can I do” can easily be answered by knowing the one thing “you can’t do,” and that is to become discouraged.  Discouragement breeds complacency, which we need to avoid like the plague.  If we get complacent, WNW’s will and confidence will grow – and they will get even more bold with their maneuvers (hard to even fathom).  In fact, that is what they are counting on!

We need to take every opportunity to let this board majority know that we are not okay with the direction in which they are taking this district and our schools.  We need to call them on every questionable or out-of-line move they make.  And similarly, if we agree with or applaud something they do, let’s tell them so!  We must be in this for the long haul; they have a 4-year term…and unfortunately, they’re just getting started.

The last point that I would like to make is that you DO have a voice and you DO make an impact on the outcome here.  WNW takes you doing nothing as support for what they are doing.

Regardless of whether you have children, grandchildren, or no children in the schools, we all have a moral obligation to advocate for children, “for the least of these”, for those who don’t have a voice.  We thank you for the part you are playing and we applaud your efforts!

April 3rd Meeting Review – Yet another view:

Study Session

1.02 Superintendent Search Update: Bill Newman of Ray & Associates – the firm heading up the district’s superintendent search – presented on the themes from the stakeholder forums that were held last month. You can see their report at here. Page 4 is interesting in that you can see what the different groups’ priorities are, including the BOE.

Mr. Newman pointed out 2 discrepancies where BOE priority gave priority to something other stakeholders did not:

Quality/characteristic #16: “Non-traditional or “hybrid” with background in military, business and/or education” – was ranked as a #3 priority for the BOE (with 3 votes) vs a ranking of 33 for teachers, 32 for administrators, 32 for support staff, 30 for parents, 30 for students, 32 for non-parent community member and 32 for other.  That’s out of a possibility of 33.  Wow.  That’s a pretty clear message!

Quality/characteristic #24:  “Has demonstrated strong leadership skills in previous positions.”  This received a ranking of 9 from the BOE and rankings of 20, 20, 15, 15, 12, 20 & 15 for other stakeholder groups as identified above.

Ms. Dahlkemper noted the disconnect on #16 between what the majority of the board wants vs what the majority of other stakeholders want.  Note that in the interest of not wanting to discourage candidates from applying, the flyer that will be distributed by Ray & Associates will state that Jeffco is looking for a traditional, non-traditional or hybrid candidate – even though the majority clearly stated that having a non-traditional candidate is at the bottom of their priority list.

Ms. Dahlkemper wanted more emphasis on a proven track record of experience with educator effectiveness.

Based again on stakeholder input, Mr. Newman suggested that the board consider adding to the candidate profile and flyer that we want a leader who “had leadership skills to respond to challenges of ethnic & cultural diversity.”  This had a ranking of 17 for the BOE, but a ranking of 7, 8, 5, 10, 12, 6, and 5 for the other stakeholders as indicated above.  Mr. Witt was “not interested” (his words) in adding this quality to the candidate profile and shot down any attempts to further discuss this matter.

Mr. Newman noted that Jeffco set a new record w/their firm – Ray & Associates received over 3,000 responses from the Jeffco community; their previous record was 1,958 responses.  Way to go!

Despite these disagreements, Witt somehow remarked, that he could see ‘substantial agreement’. One wonders if he was attending the same meeting everyone else was.

Regular Meeting

5.02 Public Comment (Agenda Related): Public comment was over 2 hours long.  In the past, such as the January 16th meeting when parents who supported the Deer Creek STEM program expansion that Witt did not like, Witt required them to speak as a single group since they were speaking on the same topic. (Witt and Newkirk voted against the expansion, Williams, Dahlkemper, and Fellman voted for it). This night, in clear violation of board policy (click here), Witt not only did not require those speaking on the same topic (charter equalization) to speak as a single group, but he allowed (also against board policy – click here) this public comment period to go on for 2 hours as opposed to cutting it off at 45 minutes and requiring others to wait until the end of the meeting.

Also, board policy states that if more than 25 people sign up to speak, individuals are to be given 2 minutes to speak (instead of 3) and groups given 5 minutes (instead of 10) to speak.  There were way more than 25 speakers (see signup list here) and they were given their full 3 & 10 minutes to speak.

The Facebook site Transparency Jeffco has an excellent video highlighting this here. So much for a fair and impartial treatment of the public.

7.03 Progress on Board Goals: Math Instruction (Ends 1, 2)

This was apparently postponed to another meeting.

7.04 Board Direction on the 2014/2015 Budget

The goal tonight was to review those items in yellow (worksheet here) that required additional discussion. No decisions made tonight are final – there is still time for discussion – but here is where this board majority stands as of tonight:

Teachers/staff – you need to be paying careful attention to this. Look at lines 19, 20, & 21 in the worksheet. Witt wants the placeholder for compensation to only read as $11,725,100. He wants the $3,727,200 PERA contribution and $500,000 Affordable Healthcare Act fees rolled up as if included and not separate/distinct from employee compensation. So instead of being a total compensation of $15,952,300 to include compensation, PERA & AHCA – it’s all rolled up in a pretty package w/a price tag of $11,725,100.  That’s a $4.2+M cut to compensation. Yes, that’s right – $4.2 MILLION DOLLAR CUT TO EMPLOYEE COMPENSATION. Again, keep in mind that this is a placeholder, but that’s what Witt wants to do for now. This was approved by another 3-2 WNW decision.

The Board then approved the $4.5M to increase wireless infrastructure (accessibility & capacity) in the district. (This has a lot of people confused, but WiFi throughout the district is spotty and this includes the landline links out of the schools. Building a campus-wide WiFi network that can support hundreds of simultaneous links is not the same as hooking up a consumer wifi hub in your house or small business. Plus, security on the network has to be a LOT tougher than what is available on consumer products.)

WNW then voted to completely cut out of the budget the $600,000 that was to fund 13 sections of full-day free kindergarten for schools where there are 35% or more free and reduced lunch kids (e.g., low income students). There justification? Julie Williams thinks – from her “experience” – that full-day kindergarten just adds specials (art, music & PE) – that it’s not additional academic time. And Witt isn’t satisfied w/national data showing that kids who receive full-day kindergarten excel and are better prepared for 1st grade than those who attend 1/2-day. Nor is he satisfied w ith national data that shows low-income students benefit greatly from a full-day K program. Nope. He wants to see Jeffco data on this. (Is this another example of ‘my mind is made up, don’t bother me with the facts’ non-thinking?)

The Board then added a $855k amount to line item 39 for the Gifted & Talented program for additional resource teachers to help out on ALPs, professional development, and better identification of GT kids.

Charter School Equalization: WNW voted to put a $3.7 MILLION for charter school equalization.

The Board added a line item w/no dollar value to address their ends goal to address remediation rates – they need more information before identifying a dollar value, and will discuss this at the next board meeting. It’s interesting that they want more detail on this, and had specific reasons for giving the GT program more money, but require no such level of detail on giving more money to Charter schools.

Lorie Gillis, the District’s CFO said that there is a lot of misconceptions & confusions about Charter School funding and recommended 1-2 hours to discuss charter school funding to ensure that everyone is on the same page on how it works and who gets what and why. Witt instead suggested adding a 30-min discussion to the next meeting.

Reserve Fund – Because of the changes above, instead of putting in the recommended $2 million into the the Reserve Fund, the District will only be able to put in between $200 to $400 thousand. According to WNW, this should be enough to keep the District’s current bond rating. (Strange, we were under the impression that the primary purpose of a reserve fund was to be help the District ride out an economic downturn…like the one we just had. You build a reserve fund during better times. So much for prudent fiscal management….)

Cornerstone Academy charter school update. Apparently since the lady in charge of this charter has a full-time job, she can’t be reached very easily to keep this moving. The original target date to open was August 2014 – that’s not even remotely achievable – at best will be 2015. Mr. Carlton, the charter school liaison tasked w/working w/Cornerstone, asked for 4-6 weeks to get back to the board with an update. The school still does not have a location identified.

10.01 Board Work Calendar:

Last big topic of the night – Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman asked that the board allocate 30 minutes at the next board meeting to have a conversation about the contract with Brad Miller – the BOE’s attorney – to discuss his fee, the contract, and what exactly it is that his firm has been doing for the district. CORA requests (click here)show Brad Miller activity on virtually every day of the month in January – of course the “activity” is blacked out so we have NO CLUE what they’ve been doing – and neither do Ms. Dahlkemper or Ms. Fellman. A conversation sounds pretty reasonable considering this was supposed to be a month-to-month contract, but it hasn’t been discussed ONCE in SIX MONTHS – and obviously Ms. Dahlkemper and Ms. Fellman haven’t been privy to any of the work BM has been doing. Nope – WNW voted NOT to have a conversation.

Another Witt steamroll. Nice.

Mar 6th BOE Meeting – Summary

Golden High School Auditorium

This was a heavily attended Board Meeting.  The auditorium, which seats 460 people was completely full with only a few allowed to stand.  The rest were sent to the Cafeteria where the audio was piped in.  The overwhelming majority of the people attending appear to be skeptical of WNW.  The meeting went on until well after 11:00 p.m. Continue reading

Feb 6th Board Meeting Agenda – Cornerstone again!

Here is a link to the official Meeting Agenda.  The meeting will take place in room 4E at the Education Center at 5:30 p.m. (map here).  Currently no Executive Session is scheduled so the public part of the meeting will start at 5:30 p.m. Continue reading

Board Mtg 1/30/14 – Summary

Below is a review of the Jan 30th Special Board meeting held at the Education Center in Golden (near Denver West off of I-70).

The first part of the meeting was held in Executive Session (no public viewing) and covered the status of negotiations with the different employee associations.  At 6:30 p.m., the public part of the meeting was convened.  Overall, there appeared to be a strong interest in anything charter school related. Continue reading